Always aware of the how easily disasters can be politicized, our secretary of homeland insecurity has been heard from.
In a kind of pre-emptive political strike, Janet Napolitano has denounced any comparison between the huge oil spill now approaching the Gulf Coast and Katrina, when the levees in New Orleans broke with terrifying results. Any such comparison, she says, would be a "total mischaracterization."
Speaking of total mischaracterization, this is the same secretary of homeland security who assured the country that the almost successful Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253, a case study in official bumbling, proved that "the system worked."
Actually, it was only alert passengers, not the secretary's vaunted system, that prevented a disaster in the air. Just as it took a couple of sidewalk vendors and a diligent cop to spot that smoking SUV in Times Square the other day.
Let's hope the secretary doesn't think having a greasy menace the size of Puerto Rico menacing the coast is another testament to how well the system worked.
A lot of people deserve a lot of credit for apprehending the suspect in the Times Square bombing attempt. And a lot of people don't. The suspect was pulled off a plane to Dubai, one of the world's great intersections of terrorism and counter-terrorism, but our secretary of homeland insecurity had no immediate explanation for why he was allowed to board in the first place -- after having bought his ticket for cash at the last minute. Much like the suspect in the Christmas Day bombing.
The country has learned a lot since September 11, 2001, and this administration seems to have learned a lot even since the Christmas Day bomber almost brought down that airliner as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam. Even though the White House no longer calls it a war on terror, it's waging one nevertheless, using some of the methods it inherited from the previous administration -- methods Barack Obama spent a lot time denouncing when he was still a presidential candidate instead of president and commander-in-chief. With power comes responsibility.
Unfortunately, this commander-in-chief may not be using enough of the methods at his disposal to combat terror -- like military commissions. The suspect in this bombing, like the one on Christmas Day, was read his Miranda rights instead of being treated as an unlawful combatant and turned over to military justice -- and interrogation.
Happily, the FBI says he's talking freely nevertheless, something his confederates in Pakistan or any in this country really didn't need to know. Maybe it's the administration that ought to stop talking so freely.
As for the oil spill creeping ashore like some monster from the deep in a sci-fi movie, word that Janet Napolitano and crew are on the case may not be much of a comfort to shrimpers along the coast and all the other folks who depend on those invaluable and now highly vulnerable wetlands. (Not to mention the endangered wildlife.) The secretary's record, and her instinctive impulse to cover her back, do not inspire great confidence.
Memo to The Hon. Janet Napolitano: Concentrate on the job at hand, not the politics of it. Do it well and the politicking will take care of itself. As usual, action speaks louder than words. So, alas, does inaction.
No doubt politicos and pundits on all sides are ready to make political grist of this fast approaching disaster in the Gulf, just as they did after Katrina hit. It may be too much to hope they'll resist any such temptation.
We've already had one president tarred for everything and anything that contributed to the national catastrophe called Katrina -- hurricane winds, flood waters, the incompetence of municipal and state officials, and/or the Corps of Engineers' shoddy construction of New Orleans' levees. One suspects George W. Bush caught a lot of that flack mainly for being George W. Bush, not that he didn't add to Katrina's damage.
Let's hope we don't have another president assigned all the blame for a national disaster, this time for BP's oil spill/geyser. And if we do, could the finger pointing please wait till the dimensions of this developing disaster and just how it occurred become clearer? For now there's too much work to be done to waste time on political gamesmanship.
Barack Obama will surely emerge from this latest crisis largely undamaged (unlike a lot of folks along the Gulf Coast) if he'll just avoid saying anything like, "Janet, you're doin' a heckuva job!"
Ms. Napolitano will probably come out of this fine, too, and go on to even bigger and worse failures. Astute observers long have noted that Washington is the only place in the country where one can fall upwards. Note the ever more successful, ever more onward-and-upward career of one Joe Biden.
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